(AP) Egypt’s Brotherhood considering presidential run
By MAGGIE MICHAEL
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was debating Tuesday whether to field a candidate in upcoming presidential elections, a much-anticipated decision that would signal whether the fundamentalist group intends to escalate or defuse rising tensions with the nation’s other political players.
The Brotherhood has emerged as the most powerful political group since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, capturing nearly 50 percent of the seats in Egypt’s first post-uprising parliamentary elections. It’s increasing grip on power has fueled concerns among liberals and secularists of the Islamist group’s intentions and whether it aims to govern alone, controlling both the parliament and the presidency.
More than 100 members of the Brotherhood’s senior legislative council were meeting Tuesday to decide on fielding a presidential candidate, according to a statement on the group’s website. For months, the Brotherhood pledged not to contest the presidency, but recently officials from the group have reconsidered, opening the door to a possible presidential run.
However, a top Brotherhood official, Mohammed el-Beltagy, told Egypt’s Al-Tahrir television late Monday that an internal poll showed a majority of Brotherhood members oppose reversing the group’s pledge not to field a candidate.
According to the Al-Masry Al-Youm daily, two of the top names under consideration as possible nominees are Brotherhood strongman and financier Khayrat el-Shater and parliamentary speaker Saad el-Katatni. El-Shater, however, faces a legal barrier to running because of a 2008 conviction on money laundering and terrorism charges.
Given the Brotherhood’s popular support and skills at rallying voters, a candidate backed by the Brotherhood would stand a strong chance of winning the presidency in late May’s elections.
Other Islamist groups, such as the ultraconservative Salafis, have agreed before to support one candidate to prevent the fragmentation of the Islamist vote, according to Yousseri Hamad, a spokesman for the Salafi Al-Nour party.
The liberals and youth groups that led the anti-Mubarak uprising have criticized the military’s handling of the transition, saying it has paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic state with the generals’ blessing.
Those concerns deepened this week, after the Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis claimed a firm majority of seats on a 100-member panel tasked with writing a new constitution. That gives the Islamists the strongest hand in writing the new charter, which will determine the balance of power between Egypt’s previously all-powerful president and parliament, and define the country’s future identity, including the role of religion and minority rights.
More than a dozen mostly liberal and secular-minded members have withdrawn from the panel, saying the committee does not reflect the diversity of Egyptian society. But the liberals are divided on how best to proceed _ some are pushing for a return to street protests, while others are calling on the generals to intervene.
For weeks, the Brotherhood has been pressing the ruling generals to sack the current government over incompetence, and say the military’s insistence on backing the Cabinet means it intends to rig the presidential elections.
The military has rejected the accusations and demands, and on Monday issued a veiled threat of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some observers believe the showdown is little more than a smoke screen to conceal a deal to split power between the Islamists and the military. The Egyptian media has speculated for months of a secret deal between the Brotherhood and the military over a so-called “consensus candidate,” whom both the Islamists and the military could support.
Either way, the Brotherhood publicly has reconsidered its pledge not to contest the presidential vote, which was an attempt to assure liberals and Egypt’s western allies that the group doesn’t intend to govern alone.
The Brotherhood also has struggled internally to prevent many of its youth members from backing an ex-member of the Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist, who was thrown out of the group for violating its earlier decision not to run in the elections.
Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed to this report.